Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of connection, love, unity, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a community and people. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

August 2, 2012

The Styles of Tango

Many terms are used to describe different styles of tango, such as tango milonguero, tango apilado, tango Villa Urquiza, estilo del centro, estilo del barrio, tango de salon, tango fantasia, tango Nuevo, and tango para exportar, etc.

The fundamental cause of stylistic differences lies in human psychology. People who are feeling-oriented incline to the inward experience. These dancers, of whom many are milongueros, have developed the milonguero style, which is danced in close embrace with slight leaning (apilado) against each other, using simple and compact steps to allow the couple to focus on the inward experiences. These dancers often dance at the tango clubs in downtown Buenos Aires where the floors are crowded, hence the term estilo del centro, or downtown style. 
Milonguero style features embrace and feelings.

People who are movement-oriented are fond of fancy steps. Such dancers, of whom many also are milongueros, have developed the Villa Urquiza style, also known as the salon style, which is danced in a loose embrace with an upright posture, using stylish figures and more adornments. These dancers like to dance at the neighborhood clubs, such as Club Sin Rumbo in the neighborhood of Villa Urquiza, where the dance floors are open, hence the term estilo del barrio, or neighborhood style. Villa Urquiza style features footwork and impression. (See How Tango Is Led.)

Milonguero style and Villa Urquiza style are commonly recognized as tango de salon, or social tango. Social tango is a loose term broad enough to include stylistic differences and narrow enough to exclude anti-social behaviors. Social dancers may be feeling-oriented or movement-oriented, but they all dance at the clubs and abide by the milonga codes. (See Milonga Codes.)

Social tango has dominated the culture of Buenos Aires from mid 1930s to mid 1950s. This period is known as tango's Golden Age. During these heydays, between 1940 and 1950, some twenty-three dancers who were even more movement-oriented than their Villa Urquiza colleagues met regularly at the Club Nelson to work on new steps. They gave birth to a style which they named Tango Fantasia. The names of these 23 dancers are listed in Robert Farris Thompson's book, Tango, the Art History of Love. Tango Fantasia not only dramatized tango with fancy footwork and showy figures but also separated itself from social tango by using open embrace, choreography and not conforming to the milonga codes. The purpose of this style is to perform on stage; therefore, it is also known as performance tango, stage tango, show tango, or exhibitory tango. (See Social Tango and Performance Tango.)

From 1955 to 1983 Argentina was ruled by a succession of military juntas whose policies discouraged social tango. Curfews were enforced and people were constantly stopped by the police for interrogation. Many were arrested or simply disappeared for aligning with the previous Peronist regime. As a result, people stopped dancing socially and tango went underground. The absence of social tango during this period gave Tango Fantasia an opportunity to take the stage. When the military rule ended in 1983, it was this style that led the revival of tango. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.)

The revival was led by a group of stage performers who brought their show Tango Argentino to Paris and New York in 1983 and 1984, where they ignited an enthusiasm for learning their style of tango. Encouraged by that success these professional dancers started to teach the Europeans and Americans Tango Fantasia, which in Argentina is known as "tango para exportar" or tango for export. Some professionals went so far as to create a new style, Tango Nuevo, a hybrid dance combining tango and non-tango elements such as exotic music and eccentric steps to cater to the taste of the Europeans and Americans. Tango Nuevo not only separates itself from social tango but from tango entirely, in my opinion, because it no longer possesses the essential characteristics of tango, thus ceases to be tango as it was created for. (See Why People Dance Tango.) 

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